While Andhra Pradesh chief minister N Chandrababu Naidu in an interaction with media persons on Thursday stopped short of using the word “alliance”, he made it clear as to which side his party will support in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
After the meetings, Naidu said in a press conference, “Our mission is to save democracy…We want to unite all in-BJP Opposition parties and chalk out a common programme. We will have to work together.”Naidu met a slew of Opposition leaders, from Sharad Pawar of the NCP to Farooq Abdullah of the National Conference, and subsequently held the most anticipated meeting of all — with Congress president Rahul Gandhi.
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He further added, “It is a democratic compulsion. We had differences with the Congress and BJP in the past. But now, we have to join hands to make it an alternative — and not just create an alternative to the BJP, but also put forward an alternative programme.”
Rahul, after meeting Naidu, said, “We will talk about the present and the future, and not about the past. All Opposition forces will work together to defend India. We have to defend our democracy.”
Desperate times call for desperate measures
The declared objective of Naidu’s meeting with Rahul was a mission to “save democracy.” However, in aligning with the Congress, the Andhra Pradesh chief minister has also sought a savior, as he is under siege in his home state at the hands of YSR Congress chief YS Jagan.
That can also be said of Rahul, who has finally found one open declaration of faith in a broad Opposition alliance, which will help him bring more parties together against the NDA. The “mahagathbandhan” (grand alliance) against the BJP, that Rahul has desperately been trying to achieve for quite some time, has remained elusive so far.
Naidu, by openly aligning with Rahul and meeting some other Opposition stalwarts, has shown the potential to be the pivot around whom the disparate Opposition may come together. While many other regional satraps and political heavyweights have shied away from a full-fledged alliance with the Congress, despite agreeing to the need for a united front to take on the BJP, Naidu’s well-publicized meeting with Rahul has all that it takes to give hope to the possibility of the mahagathbandhan.
A weak and divided Opposition may turn out to be the BJP’s biggest advantage in the upcoming Assembly elections.
However, if Naidu succeeds in bringing all the top guns of the Opposition together, including the two big Ms – BSP supremo Mayawati and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee – the picture may change drastically in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
It may be recalled that recently, the Congress and BSP failed to enter a much-anticipated alliance in the poll-bound states of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Further, Banerjee has refused to accept Rahul as the leader of all Opposition parties.
Political life comes full circle for Naidu
The Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader has earlier been a part of the NDA, and the meeting with the Congress president on Thursday was a ‘Ghar wapsi’ of sorts for him.
Naidu had begun his political career as a Congress MLA. He had joined the Congress as a student leader in the 1970s and was elected to the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly in 1978 as a Congress (I) member. He later joined the TDP after marrying the daughter of the party icon and founder, NT Rama Rao.
To use a well-worn cliché, politicians make strange bedfellows. In the past, Naidu has courted politicians from opposite ends of the spectrum with great elan. Nearly twenty years ago, the TDP was the second largest party in the NDA after the 1999 Lok Sabha election. Now, Naidu is likely to test his political fortunes alongside the Congress in 2019.
One may recall that NT Rama Rao had founded the TDP to counter the Congress party, stating that it was “a historic need to rid Andhra Pradesh of the corrupt and inept rule of the Indian National Congress, which had governed the state since its formation in 1956.”
On Thursday, the same TDP’s supremo went to meet Rahul at his residence in New Delhi.
This is a significant boost for Rahul as well. Naidu is the first leader with a strong national recall value and high stature whom he has hosted at his residence after having taken over as Congress president.